How to train your team: Top tips from successful small business owners

Stuck in a training rut? With so much on your plate, it’s easy to let onboarding slip through the cracks — but getting it right is critical. If your strategy could use a refresh, who better to take advice from than a great group of business owners? 

Here, the owners of Square Pie Guys and Scentcerely Yours share their tried-and-true tips for building a strong training program.

Get new team members as excited as you are

Danny Stoller of Square Pie Guys not only believes in great pizza but also in getting team members excited from day one: 

We’re genuinely excited and grateful for every single person that chooses to work with us. In the industry, it’s really hard to find talent. So, it’s very important to us that everyone gets that excitement from their manager.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how we can build that aspect into our onboarding checklist. For instance, the checklist includes a bio about the founders that they go through to better understand our passion. But making sure that the managers who are onboarding them have that as their true north, and their goal too, is a huge priority.

Put them in the passenger seat

Rob and Susi Brucato of Scentcerely Yours says that instead of hopping right into formal training, they give their new team members a chance to experience their business from the other side:

The first thing Susi does is make the new employee the customer. They hear the process from Susi’s perspective as an employee, because ultimately that’s how they’re going to be communicating when they start to deal with customers. 

So, it’s not just us regurgitating. Instead, we show them what we say. We tell them that Susi’s going to be the employee and to pick up on things that she said, because that’s ultimately how you’re going to explain the experience to the customer.  

We see them go through the process, sit down, and make the candle — and we get to see their excitement, their involvement, right from the start. I really feel like Susi does a great job getting the employees fired up from the beginning when they come in as a customer and experience it firsthand. 

I think that’s a huge thing we do on the front end that puts them at ease. It’s not like they’re coming into this and I’m going throw a bunch of stuff at them. They get to relax, be the customer and enjoy the experience. Then, we’ll just start to talk about some of the parts of the process. It’s very effective.

Give the right guidance  

A little guidance goes a long way, says Danny: 

‘Prior preparation prevents poor performance’ is like the mantra of a pizza station. You have to come correct, and then you just execute. If you don’t, you find yourself falling behind really quickly. So, we have a trainer who is showing them how to do it the first day and observing the second day — sort of like a guided execution.  

On the third day, they start to be on their own, and on the fourth and fifth days, they’re basically solo with their station partner. But at the end of it, there’s a quiz. And in that, the trainer says, ‘you’re good to go,’ or ‘hey, we need to spend a little bit more time on this.’

Expand their perspectives  

Not only do Rob and Susi provide the customer perspective, but they also make sure the employee gets the opportunity to build their own style based on how everyone else operates: 

We give the new employees exposure to all the other team members as soon as possible, and not just by having them introduce themselves. We let the new employee shadow all of our other team members — somebody who’s been here six months, somebody who’s been here a year, somebody who’s been here for three years — because it puts them at ease. 

I think this prevents the employees from thinking, ‘okay, Susi’s telling me this, I have to do it exactly the way Susi tells me, or I’m not doing a good job.’ It’s, ‘hey, here’s the whole team of people. Work with everybody, get exposure to everybody, pick up bits and pieces from everybody and then just make it your style.’

I think giving the employees exposure right from the beginning to everybody makes them feel less inundated. It instills confidence in the new employee that we have a great team of people. We trust everybody. Everybody does it differently. There’s no one right way to do this. You tweak it, you make it your style. 

And again, I think that just helps to get people to buy in from the beginning, feel less intimidated by it, excited about it, and know that they can put their spin on it — make it their own.

Train everyone equally  

Exposing everyone to all areas of training is key, says Danny: 

If you’re a general manager, you actually go through every single hourly training certification. Then you go through the shift lead training before the general manager training. With that, what we’re able to do is build a knowledge base. As your responsibility increases, you accumulate the knowledge with it.  

Everyone has to be able to tap into a given role if needed. Theoretically, managers support a team that’s doing that work — and they’re not doing the work themselves. If you think of a pyramid of knowledge, you go from these specific chunks of knowledge to oversight. And our process is very logical and iterative. 

Our goal is to one day hire someone on as a dishwasher — and three years later, they’re a GM. That would be the best-in-class scenario. 

Bonus tip: Homebase makes onboarding a breeze. We’ll get started before your new employee’s first day by sending a welcome packet and allowing them to e-sign all necessary documents so you have more time to focus on training. Then, we’ll securely store their information right in Homebase. 


Meet the owners

Danny Stoller
Square Pie Guys
Square Pie Guys is a modern pizza restaurant that serves up Detroit-style square pan pizzas to the Bay Area. A former head chef, Danny and his co-founder Marc Schechter started the restaurant as a weekly pop-up and have since grown it into a continuing success. 
Rob and Susi Brucato
Scentcerely Yours
Rob and Susi left their finance careers behind to provide a custom candle-making experience to the residents of Geneva, Illinois at Scentcerely Yours. Three years later, the couple’s unique ability to help customers tell their own stories through scent has made them a community staple.

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